November 2008 Archives

Bored at all?

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My project is about finished and I still really just need people to test it. I've tried promises of rewards, subtle flattery, idle, yet colorful threats, and shameless begging, but have still gotten only a hand-full of people to test my game. None, since the last batch of updates. 

So, if you happen to be looking for something to do, I put the game, links to the software you need to run it, and a walkthrough up on my homepage. I'll accept feedback in whatever form you feel is appropriate, unless it involves hurling produce at me.



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I think I've reached the point where I have no more valid input. I added a superfluous, yet fairly entertaining room yesterday, and realized it was probably time to stop. I've mostly been fixing my many typos and making my descriptions a little more awesome, but at this point I really just need to get some outside input in order to determine which direction I want to take. 

All the descriptions need to serve to purposes:

First, they need to reveal hints on how to solve the puzzles.

Second they need to reveal hints as to what the answer to the great question of the game is: What Happened?

In both cases, they really need to strike a fine balance. I don't want the puzzles so obvious that playing the game is essentially going through the motions while a story appears on the screen. It also can't be so hard that no one can complete it.

In terms of revealing what happened, they can't be so obvious that the player loses interest in figuring out what happened, but they have to hint enough that they maintain the player's interest.

As I know EXACTLY what happened, and EXACTLY how to solve each puzzle (It's been at least a week since I've actually read a word beyond the room name while playing) I'm quite literally the person least able to determine what direction my descriptions need to shift toward in order to reach the appropriate balance. I really just need to get some testing done in order to fine-tune this project. Despite my promises of future imbibable incentives, I've only gotten a few people to test the game. The especially problematic part of fine-tuning is that anyone who has tested the game previously, loses a good deal of validity as a test subject.

Anyway, all I really have to do, besides fine-tuning, is to write the ending. However, I need input from testers in order to ensure that the ending is neither too predictable, nor to impossibly unpredictable. Once again, the proper balance must be struck.    

I think I've got my game about finished

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I've finally gotten the whole phone thing to work properly. Here are the most recent changes:

  • The cell phone now actually works once you put the battery in it. The part where you remove the battery from one cell phone to put it in another has caused me incredible amounts of difficulty. It's mostly a pain to program two objects with similar names, so that the player can somehow get the game to understand which object it's talking about.
  • I improved the descriptions on a few things, and hopefully made it a little easier to figure out whats going on.
  • I spent awhile trying to figure out a way to have the game always tell you what room you're in, only to find out that when you play a compiled version on a z-machine interpreter it does that anyway.
  • Oh, I also made it so you can't just stick things like blow dryers, pineapples, empty tequila bottles, paintings, womens clothing, etc in the phone. 

So, I still have the following left, but really don't want to change much until I get some testing done:

  • I need an ending. Right now when you accomplish the final goal it just says: "YOU WIN." Which I just find inadequate. I want to actually tell the reader the story of what happened the night before.
  • Also, I want to make my clues suggestive enough that the player can form some basic idea of what happened the night before, but vague enough that they still have unanswered questions.  
  • So to accomplish this I've gotta get some more testing done. I'm kind of thinking about just taking all the descriptions that offer flashbacks, and have people just read them in order to determine how strong of an impression of the story they get, so I can adjust them accordingly.
  • After I accomplish all this, I'll figure out which way to go with the ending.

With luck I'll be in better shape tommorow, as I should recieve some feedback from a couple people I e-mailed copies to by then. Oh, and if anyone wants to test it, just email me, and I'll send you a copy of it, as well as the interpreter you need to run it.  




So I realized that detailed descriptions that hint at what the player should probably do with their surroundings might be helpful. Also all my rooms require some sort of action or thing to enter, and it wasn't clear that when the player was prevented from entering a room, they had actually not moved into the room. I'll need to fix that. I'm content with ALMOST all the coding in the game, for the most part everything works. I really just need to make the descriptions more useful, and entertaining. The story-line is a bit weak at this point.

Beside's walking Anne through my game (Due to the previously mentioned flaws), I also played Maddie's game. I just want to take this time to point out that Maddie's game is awesome and you should all play it. I learned a lot from it, too. For one she actually has well written descriptions for things....this is something I've been planning to add to my game, but haven't yet. I also like the use of the point system, which I may incorporate into my game. If I do, I plan on using a similar system as Maddie's wherein the player is arbitrarily awarded points for actions that don't necessarily relate to the overall objective of the game, but are entertaining none-the-less.

Overall it was a useful exercise, and it gave me lots of ideas for improving my game.  

"What Happened?" my Interactive Fiction Story

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My term project is an interactive fiction story entitled "What Happened?" It is the story of waking up after a party and trying to figure out what exactly transpired the previous evening. While the main goal is to find the character's phone in order to call a friend for the whole story, I've thrown in (and will continue to throw in) little vague flashbacks to drop hints about the previous evening.

Because my home is low on traps and locked or hidden doors, I've invented puzzles that deal mostly with overcoming the character's hangover induced weaknesses. I've got all the puzzles worked out in my head, though I'm not entirely sure how to program them yet. I can, however find enough examples that I know all of them are possible to program. I've got descriptions for about half the rooms written, though I know what the rest will be. That's my next step. I plan to keep them short and try to get the puzzles and basic descriptions done first. Then, I'll go through and do what I can to slip in more descriptions, and improve it. I think its pretty important to make sure it works, before worry about unnecessary details. So thats about where I am now. There is one undecided bit: At the end of the game the player calls his buddy to find out what happened. I'm going to have one of three things happen:

1. The story will essentially be what the player figured out. (Probably not going to use this)

2. The story will be as far from what the player thought it was.

3. Or I'll just have the player's friend say "I don't know man, I left early."

Below I'll discuss the puzzles specifically, but if you plan on playing it later. It'll spoil the game for you. So up to you.









Okay, the game starts out on the bathroom floor. You can't do anything that involves getting off the floor until you eat the aspirin. The aspirin is in the cabinet, and to get it you have to throw a blow dryer at it, which knocks it open and rattles it enough that the aspirin falls to the ground. You have to then dump out a bottle of tequila that you wake up next to, then fill it with water from the bathtub faucet (you can't stand to get to the sink) in order to take the aspirin. Now you can stand, and leave the bathroom.

Besides scenery the hall has an out of place ugly painting and a switch. It also connects the rest of the house. The switch turns on the vent-fan for the basement which clears out the smoke so that you can go down there. The kitchen has broken glass on the floor, and in order to enter it you have to find some shoes. All thats obviously available is a pair of high-heels. In the kitchen you find your cell phone, but with no battery. The bed room has some especially loud music going, the sort that can induce migraines in one with a wicked hangover. In order to enter it you have to get some earplugs (There might be a key involved with this) The living room has several windows, and is incredibly bright, to go in there you have to find some sunglasses. In order to go outside you have to find some pants for decorum sake. To get the pants you have to wake up some chick who is passed out in your bed on top of them. You don't feel comfortable doing this until you determine her name. (It's the signature on the ugly painting). Once you have the pants you can go to your car, (outside) Inside is someone else's cell which happens to have the same battery as yours. At last you can call your buddy, and its over.   

Portfolio: Usability, Wikipedia and Inform 7

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In the last few weeks our Writing for the Internet class has studied both usability testing and Inform 7. Usability is essentially the quality that describes how easy a website, or anything is to use. We read "Don't Make Me Think" by Steve Krug, which discussed the importance of usability as well as strategies for testing and improving it. We also discussed interactive fiction. We read/played several works and studied Inform 7, a piece of software designed for writing interactive fiction. In studying Wikipedia we discussed its validity as a research tool. We then compared the content of several articles, eventually edited some of that content and discussed our experiences.

I think I've done a good job covering the readings in my blog entries. I wrote a great deal about Krug's book and usability in general. I also applied some of the concepts discussed in the book to Windows Vista. When discussing Wikipedia, I wrote about the two opposing articles regarding wikipedia.

As usual, timeliness is my weakness. The blog about the first part of Krug, was however, posted the day before class, rather than in the early morning hours of the day of class.


The blog that recieved the most comments was again the one on the first part of Krug. I guess this illustrates the advantage of posting early.


Depthwise I think I did a pretty good job. The one I wrote about usability of Windows Vista really showed my ability to apply the ideas learned in the readings to other things. I also think my blog on Krug's chapters 7-8 really offered in-depth commentary on the ideas discussed in those chapters.

I did a much better job this time of commenting on peer blogs, but find it almost impossible to locate any of the blog entries I did comment on. If there is some simple way to do this, I'd like to know what that is. That is so far the only disadvantage of not waiting until I'm in the midst of writing the portfolio to comment on people's blogs.    



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In Krug's book "Don't Make Me Think," he discusses usability. He focusses on several different aspects of usability and illustrates each point with several examples from actual websites. Suprisingly, this book is still very relevant dispite having been written in 2000. Because Krug focusses on general principles, rather than specific trends. He avoids making rules about specific content, but focuses on general content. The point isn't what particular layouts and features are easiest to use, but that whatever layouts and features are selected, had better be easy to use. For this reason the book remains relevant dispite its age.

 One possible concern about the book may be that audience attention spans are likely decreasing. However, Krug effectively combats this by suggesting that there is no minimum level of usability for all sites. Instead, Krug suggests that all sites should be as simple as they possibly can be, while still accomplishing their goals.

The only possible update for the book would be a few of the examples. Some of the websites Krug used were a little old, and no longer popular. Some of the ones he used are also older versions of still existent ones. It would seem prudent to include new examples simply because they will seem more relevant to new readers. Really though, there is probably not much point in writing a whole new edition.    

This entry is pretty much what one familar with the location would expect. It's fairly short, and contains primarily descriptions of the towns role in oil refinement, and some very basic facts about the location and climate.

The most interesting fact given was the population: 30,000 in 2005. When I left in 2000, it was close to 2,000 and shrinking. It's likely this number includes the area outside the actual Saudi Aramco compound as well. I checked and previously the population was listed at 1,950, which is likely accurate. While it is immaterial which area the population describes, the author really should mention what area they are talking about specifically.

The other piece of information that caught my eye was the reference to the area outside Abqaiq as "medinat." The more accurate transliteration and pronounciation of this Arabic word for "city" excludes the "t" at the end. Despite this, that was exactly how the majority of expats in Abqaiq pronounced the word.


The pages for Seton Hill University and St. Vincent College were interesting to look at. Seton Hill's page was confusing as it said the school became coeducational in 2002, but that men could attend much earlier than that. This seemed a bit contradictory. I also noticed that Seton Hill's tuition wasn't listed in the section off to the right that has a list of simple information, this is likely because the author couldn't locate it on the school's website. Overall, Seton Hill's entry seemed to have more depth, and contained mostly the sort of information  that seemed accurate, if only because I know some of it is, and it really isn't anything that would be fun to fabricate, such as a list undergraduate programs and graduate programs.

St Vincent College's page was a bit different. There isn't really anything about academics, and the history page is a random collection of bizarre facts. The fact that president Bush spoke at comencement, may be relevant note, and the fact that Nixon and Kennedy did too, will become relevant once a citation is added.

The fact that a lobbyist was hired in 2004 to get the school some extra money seems like something one might put in for reasons unrelated to a desire to describe the school's history. The fact that their football team lost every game in 2007 just isn't really that nice or relevant of a thing to mention. While these two things may be true, they just aren't that relevant in such a brief history section. To me there is an unwritten heirarchy of facts. One doesn't get to mention minor details unless A) the important facts are overabundantly obvious to everyone or B) The important, more general information has already been discussed. Doing otherwise would be like writing a biography of a president, and mentioning that they liked their steaks medium-rare, but leaving out the whole bit about them actually being in office.


Wikipedia: Useful or Evil?

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In Is Wikipedia Becoming a Respectable Academic Source?, Lisa Spiro discusses the increased use of Wikipedia in academic writing. She began by finding the number of citings, and then determining how they were used.

"111 of the sources (66.5%) are what I call "straight citations"--citations of Wikipedia without commentary about it-while 56 (34.5%) comment on Wikipedia as a source, either positively or negatively. "----Spiro


She did a really good job of describing the many legitimate uses for wikipedia, as well as admitting its many shortcomings. One of the common uses she described, that I really hadn't considered, was for finding "information about contemporary culture or as a reflection of contemporary cultural opinion." In this capacity wikipedia is ideal in as a collection information compiled by non-expert writers (as well as some experts). Anytime one wishes to make a general claim about the feelings of society as a group, it's likely that the beliefs reflected on wikipedia will be pretty accurate. I haven't checked this, (but will after I type it), but it is likely that Jimi Hendrix's page will mention something about him being considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time. If I wanted to say something to that effect, (likely in an introduction to a research paper), it carries more weight (and is more accurate) to say that he is "widely recognized as....," or "considered by many to be...." than to just say "so-and-so, a music critic for some-magazine, claimed that Jimi Hendrix is..."

As much as wikipedia's collective nature can lead to inacuracy, making it less legitimate as a detailed source, its collective nature makes it more relevant as a record of society's general beliefs.

In There's no Wikipedia entry for 'moral responsibility' by Andrew Orlowski attacks wikipedia for several reason. The article is sparked by the libelling of John Seigenthaler, a former aide to Robert Kennedy on wikipedia. While this libelling is unfortunate, it goes to show that almost no one has any reason to look up information on John Seigenthaler.  

Orlowski argues that "Wikipedia has a long way to go to rid itself of the image that it's a massive, multiplayer shoot-em-up game, or MMORPG" I couldn't resist quoting this line, as it made me think. Is Orlowski somehow making fun of inacuracys on wikipedia by misusing the term MMORGP (massive multiplayer ONLINE ROLE PLAYING GAME)? Or did he just make a mistake? If it is a mistake, it would have been fixed within 18 seconds by some gamer had it been on wikipedia.


While, many of Orlowski's complaints are valid, he paints both sides of the issue only in black and white. He claimes that wikipedia "firmly puts the blame on the reader, for being so stupid as to take the words at face value." The problem with this argument is that any conscious reader is capable of assessing facts. It is true, that if someone changes Calvin Coolidge's birthday on wikipedia to June 27th, chances are no one will catch it. The reader is not really responsible for this error. However, if someone changes the date to February 31st, the reader should probably catch that. If a reader reads that "Walt Whitman later changed his last name to Disney after creating Mickey Mouse, and eventually died at the age of 124 in a freak accident while riding Space Mountain at Disneyworld." they really should be able to determine that some of these facts may require varification.

What it really comes down to though, is that wikipedia is the sort of collection of diverse knowledge that one might gather if they spent several life-times discussing thousands of topics with thousands of people. Some will disagree, some will make up outright lies, some will be mistaken, but it will still provide a general basis of knowledge for any subject, as encyclopdias are designed to do. Neither offer the necessary depth for any real analysis, but if you're just wondering "Who is so-and-so?" or "What is (something)? They can give you basic answers.   





Usability and Accessability

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"When people decide to test, they often spend a lot of time trying to recruit users who they think will precisely reflect their target audience- for instance, male accountants between the ages of 25 and 30 with one to three years of computer experience who have recently purchased expensive shoes." ---- Krug 139


I really enjoyed the part about usability, especially as it related to the tests we did. I definately agreed that it seems pretty unnecessary to pick people who would actually be interested in the content of the site. The web sites I selected were band websites, and only one of my test subjects even slightly liked one of the bands. This had no effect on the tests whatsoever. It turns out that artistic tastes are not something that predict or in anyway relate to the way someone uses a website.

I was also interested in the part on accessability. I really wasn't aware of the previous lack of a stylesheet (I can only imagine making a website without a stylesheet and it's pretty terrifying.) Besides saving A LOT of effort, I can really see how it's organizational benifits could be extremely helpful for someone using a screen-reader. In many cases, once you get to the page you actually want to read (assuming it has few images), it could just as well be in notepad as internet explorer. Most of the extra bits are stuck in the style sheet. 

I'm not 100% sure how screen readers work, but I was kind of wondering if there would be a way for them to take over for the style-sheet and re-position everything, so that at every-website the user would have the same identical layout, or as close as possible. That way, someone could, without seeing, more quickly reach the particular sort of text they want read. Just a thought. I don't know if it could be done purely through the style-sheet or if it would need some sort of search engine to determine that five lines, each with just a link is likely a nav bar, etc. I wonder how possible that would be....or if it's how all of them work and have worked for the last five years.    

Krug 7-8

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"Whenever someone hands me a Home page design to look at, there's one thing I can almost always count on: They haven't made it clear enough what the site is." --- Krug 98

The discussion on how Home pages REALLY, need to make it abundantly obvious to the user immediately reminded me of those commercials for, where some person suffers some really crappy luck, and then it the words "Now What?" appear. I actually checked and noticed two things. First off, in google's pull down search menu that lists results for various things you might be typing, it shows more for " what is" than just "" When you actually get to the site, it offers free mp3s and some other stuff, after playing some sort of animation that takes longer to load than I'm willing to wait. I'm not sure how successful this particular promotion has been for State Farm (Turns out the site wants you to get insurance) but it really violates the very basic concept of letting the people you are trying to get to do business with you know what services/products you provide.

While this particular site violates Krug's rule for Home pages, it does address some of the problems discussed in Chapter 8. This chapter covers a lot of the problems involved with combining the input of multiple people, with multiple goals in mind. The ACTUAL Home Page for State Farm is pretty basic, and it's extremely obvious what the site is for. Even though "State Farm" is a pretty well known Insurance Company, it says the word "Insurance" at least 5 times in the top quarter of the page. It has only a few pictures and is really quite ideal for customers who just want to get a quote or adjust their account. It's probably what a developer would come up with if left alone-- It's extremely functional. (which seems to reach out to the younger generation and somehow get them interested in insurance) is pretty much what you'd get if you left it up to the designer. The whole page is a picture of a street, where the buildings have signs on them that are links to little games, etc. the whole thing moves, and little animations are set off when you move your mouse over them. The only navigation at the top is a drop-down menu consisting of buttons (which are pieces of lined paper with names in hand-writting) with generally vague, yet interesting sounding names ("Apartment Ninja," is unfortunately not a product one can order, but a flash game). Visually, the site is far more interesting than State Farm's Home Page, but I'd be greatly irritated if I had to go through it when all I wanted to do was pay my premium online.

So in this particular instance, it seems as if State Farm tried to avoid the convolution that can result from trying to do to much with the Home page, by just having two, with each one targeting a different audience. I'm kind of interested to find out how well it worked. I guess I have a feeling that any kids who accidentally click on some cleverly disguised link to State Farm's regular website, probably hit "back" pretty quick.